Harlech Castle

This book contains groundbreaking research that will revolutionise Edwardian castle studies.

Harlech has always been a favourite destination for tourists as well enthusiasts of our medieval history.  To me Harlech has always been a strangely sterile and cold castle and it was with reluctance that I was persuaded to visit and reappraise this Edwardian fortress after thirty years researching original history.  What I thought would be a rather mundane trip down well trodden paths, in fact turned out to be exhilarating and exciting - since the re-examination showed that the path was not so well trodden after all. 

Again and again in castle studies the mantra must be repeated - what do the original sources say and do they agree with the ‘history' that has accrued around the site?  Further, if original evidence is at variance with received wisdom, then surely it is time to throw out the so-called ‘wisdom' and replace it with a more authentic account.  To facilitate this, much time has to be spent examining original Welsh, Latin and French material and explaining its meaning in the modern world.  This involves trying not to allow later accounts to sully the purity of the original evidence.  To this end the historiography of Harlech castle is examined to see how some of the more ill-conceived legends about the site grew up.

Comparison with the records concerning King Edward I's other North Welsh castles shows that the ‘old walls' of Harlech castle, on which the Edwardian castle was built between 1286 and 1289, could not have been built in the period 1283 to 1285 as is repeatedly asserted without evidence.  This book shows conclusively that Harlech castle began life as a Welsh llys (commotal court), progressed to be a major castle of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and finally was modified into the fortress we have today by kings Edward I and Edward II of England.

At Harlech, under the austere modern rebuildings, we have a living fortress that was begun some time in the lost mysterious past of the Mabinogion and Branwen.  This evolved through the age of the princes, maturing into what could have been a great castle of Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd.  However, that plan was cut short by the collapse of the principality of Wales in 1283 and Harlech became a major and largely irrelevant stronghold of King Edward I and his descendants, guarding what was said to be a wild and sparsely populated country which not even a military king like Edward IV could find the time to properly conquer due to its isolation.

This is the true Harlech castle.

The contents of Harlech Castle and its True Origins

Introduction     1
The Geology of Harlech and its surrounds     6
Prince Hywel ab Owain and Meirionydd     10
Giraldus Cambrensis and the Trip through Meirionydd in 1188    12
The Alleged Castell Aber Ia    19
The Castle of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in Meirionydd    22
Harlech Castle in the War of Dafydd ap Gruffydd, 1283    23
Harlech Castle during 1284    31
The Works at Harlech during 1285    34
1286: The Edwardian Modifications of Harlech Castle Begin    35
Harlech Castle Transformed, 1287 to 1290    47
Master James St George    58
Harlech and the Rising of Madog ap Llywelyn    60
Harlech in the Early Fourteenth Century    67
Harlech Castle under King Edward III and Richard II    76
Harlech and the Wars of King Henry IV    81
The ‘Great Siege' of Harlech Castle    85
The Tudor Survey of Harlech and Subsequent Repairs    92
The Welsh Harlech Castle    96
The North Wall    98
The West Wall and Hall Block    110
The South Wall    124
The Later Welsh Work    130
The Garden Tower    131
The Prison Tower    141
The East Curtain, North Section    153
The East Curtain, South Section    157
The Great Gatehouse and Crosswall    168
The Gate Passageway    174
The Ground Floor Gatehouse Chambers    179
The Upper Floors of the Gatehouse    181
The Outer Gatehouse and Piers    203
The Middle Ward    210
The North Face of the Middle Ward    220
The Outer Ward    229
The Water Gate    234
The Middle Gate and Great Ditch    239
The Western Towers    245
The Layout of the Internal Buildings    252
The Enceinte Fenestration    257
The Internal Fenestration    272
The Castle Battlements    278
The Four Stages of Harlech Castle    283
Appendices    285
Timeline    297

Harlech Castle and its True Origins consists of 305 pages of A4 with 259 figures, diagrams and photographs.  It covers not only the development of Harlech and its environs, but attempts to sort out the itinerary of Giraldus Cambrensis around Meirionydd in 1188 and explains the mystery of Castell Deudraeth and the so-called Castell Aber Ia.
The book may be purchased
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Why not join me at Harlech and other British castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.

Copyright©2013 Paul Martin Remfry